Faculty: Dionna Manning
Growing up in the small town of Roanoke Rapids, Dionna Manning knew everyone — and everyone knew her.
It was family dinners every Thursday and Sunday night — and well almost any night really. She started work at age 15 in the local drug store. The friends she made in elementary school are still friends today.
And after graduating from East Carolina University and working in the College of Education for the past 23 years, that sense of community, friendship and family for her fellow Pirate coworkers and students is just as strong.
“The unique thing about my job is that I recruit my students in high school and then get to keep them for four years,” said Manning, director of the education community of scholars and living learning community in the College of Education. “I get to know them on a personal level. I’ve been to their weddings, baby showers, birthday parties and even have had them at my house occasionally when hardships or holidays arise. While they initially refer to me as Dr. Manning, I often am referred to as ‘Mama D.’ I often know their parents and siblings, and many times have siblings go through my program. I still keep up with many of my students and their families 10 and 15 years later. I’ll always be hyping them up and cheering them on.”
Manning’s passion for a career in education started early. Her mother was a teacher.
“I grew up knowing all along that I wanted to be a schoolteacher,” Manning said.
“I was torn. I really wanted to go in the classroom, but my husband and my mom both were teaching and said that I could work for the university for a few years while I had the opportunity and I could always go back to the classroom,” Manning said. “I took their advice.”
That temporary position turned into a full-time job supporting faculty with technology needs and running summer workshops. She transitioned to a position leading the state’s teaching fellows program at ECU and continues today recruiting and supporting education students in her current role.
She teaches freshmen in COAD 1000 in which she advises them to make smart choices and use mistakes and obstacles as learning experiences.
“My other advice that I often give them is take the chance, ask the questions and make the move,” Manning said. “The worst thing that can happen is that someone says no or that it doesn’t work out and then you are in the same place you are now, but it may work out in your favor, and you will never know if you don’t take the chance. Challenge yourself, ask the questions and always own up and apologize for your mistakes.”
Manning also carries with her the experiences she had as a student at ECU.
“When I came here as a student, I was very homesick. I didn’t like it,” she said. “But once I got my feet on the ground and came back for my second semester and gave it a chance, I started to create my own support system and form those relationships.”
She said that support system can be found in the college’s living learning community, where College of Education students live, study and enjoy campus life together.
“I think the living learning communities in all our different programs are so powerful,” she said. “You come in and you are part of a group.”
And that helps foster a sense of family among College of Education students, faculty and alumni.
“Some of my former students actually babysat my own children. My daughter was actually a flower girl for one of my students’ weddings,” Manning said. “There have been a lot of siblings who have come through. Their older brother or older sister was in my program, and even now, I have a student who will be a sophomore, and her older sister graduated in May. I know their mom and dad, and every time they would come into town we would stop by and see them at their tailgate, so it truly is a family environment, and it kind of came from my upbringing — that large, extended family and that support system.”
She said teachers today face many challenges, including low pay and the threat of school violence. She said the College of Education helps future teachers through professional development seminars that go beyond traditional classroom learning.
And even though the challenges of teaching may sometimes seem too much, Manning said the rewards are priceless.
“It’s the relationships and seeing the success of our students,” she said. “My students have been teachers of the year. They’re nationally board certified. They move up in administration and become principals and assistant principals, and the success is knowing that they are the constant in so many students’ lives. They’re able to see those students in those ‘aha’ moments and know the differences they’ve made in all these students.”
Manning has received numerous accolades while at ECU, including the Creed Award, Treasured Pirate Award, Honored Instructor Award and what she called her biggest accomplishment, induction into the College of Education Educators Hall of Fame thanks to sponsorship from Pat and Lynn Lane.
When not working, she enjoys being out on the water, traveling and online shopping. Her husband Tom recently retired as a teacher, and daughter McKaleigh graduated from ECU in May and started work as a nurse this summer. Their son Camden is a senior in high school.
She credits her family as well as her College of Education family for helping her develop the teachers who will foster success in others.
“I am so thankful and fortunate to have had such great coworkers, supervisors and mentors here at ECU,” Manning said. “Folks have believed in me and pushed me to be my very best, and they are the reason I am where I am today. Helen Parke, Marilyn Sheerer and Vivian Covington were some of the best supervisors and mentors. I strive to be like the folks who believed in me when I first came to ECU and to give everyone I interact with every opportunity to be the best they can be and have the best experience they can.”
Name: Dionna Manning
Title: Director of the Education Community of Scholars and Living Learning Community for the College of Education
Hometown: Roanoke Rapids
Colleges attended and degrees: East Carolina University, Bachelor of Science in elementary education; Master of Arts in Education in instructional technology; Doctor of Education in educational leadership, higher education administration concentration.
Years working at ECU: 23 years
What I do at ECU: It is hard to define exactly what I do, because after working in the same place for 20-plus years, I feel like I do a little of everything; however, my primary job is serving as the director of the education community of scholars and living learning community for the College of Education. I get to work with prospective students, to recruit them to ECU, and then I get to work directly with current students through scholarships and the living learning community.
What I love about ECU: What I love most about ECU is the people and the university pride. From the students to the faculty, staff and donors, we have the best folks associated with the university, and I get energized being around them.
Research interests: My primary research interests are in student success and satisfaction, teacher leadership strategies, and student recruitment and retention strategies.
What advice do you give to students? I give lots of advice to my students, but the main pieces of advice that I give most are: Make smart choices; surround yourself with good people. Everybody’s journey is their own and while it may be different, it’s OK. Setbacks aren’t failures.
Favorite class to teach? While I have taught several different classes over the years, I primarily teach only COAD 1000 now due to my other job duties. I love teaching this class, as it is a personal development class that assists students with the transition from high school to college.
What do you like to do when not working? When I’m not working, I love to spend time with family and friends traveling and being out on the water, either at the beach or the lake. I love the sunshine and water and I love seeing new places. My other absolute favorite thing to do is shop. I love online shopping.
First job: My first job, outside of babysitting, was working at a locally owned drug store in Roanoke Rapids.
One thing most people don’t know about me: When I came to ECU as a freshman, many years ago, I did not like ECU at all. I was very homesick and was unhappy here my first semester. I lived on the second floor of Jones Hall, and most of the friends here were certain that I would never come back to ECU after Christmas break. But thanks to the encouragement and support of my mom, my family and my coworkers in the chemistry department, I came back to ECU and ended up loving it.